Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have announced a team effort of the department’s Lewis Conservation District and the Weyerhaeuser Company to remove a fish passage barrier on the West Fork Chehalis River. The project, which is to begin this summer, will open seven miles of previously isolated stream habitat for salmon and steelhead.
Back in the early 1960s, the West Fork of the Chehalis River was rechanneled as part of a forest road construction project. It included an impassable bedrock cascade, often referred to as the West Fork Falls fish barrier, which prevents salmon and steelhead from migrating upstream. Now Weyerhaeuser had identified and proposed the project to remove this barrier and providing over 50% of the funds needed for the work. The remainder of funds will come from the conservation district, which received funds from the Chehalis Basin Strategy’s Aquatic Species Restoration Plan 2020 grant round.
According to Donald Schuh, an engineering specialist with Weyerhaeuser, the company has been working since the early 1990s to identify and repair forest road related fish barriers and to re-establish fish access across its Pacific Northwest properties.
The West Fork Chehalis River will be restored to its original channel by relocating the existing forest road and adding two bridges over the historical channel. The reconnected channel will have natural wood structures installed along the edges to create additional habitat for salmon, other fish, amphibians and other aquatic species.
Channel restoration work will allow juvenile coho salmon, steelhead and spring Chinook salmon to migrate up and downstream through this reach of the river during their early life stages. State fisheries officials said this project represents the ongoing development of a cooperative relationship with working lands, such as commercial forestry to enable protection of ecosystems, unique habitats and critical ecosystem functions described in the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan.
The Chehalis River originates in several forks in southwestern Washington, flows eat, then north, then west, in a large curve, before emptying into Grays Harbor, an estuary of the Pacific Ocean.